|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 6|
Rowena picked up the phone to dial the bed-and-breakfast Molly had recommended.
And heard Eloise right behind her.
“Are you on your break?”
“Yes, I am, Eloise.” Rowena put the receiver down but left her hand on it.
“Good,” said Eloise. “Then perhaps we can ‘chat.’”
Rowena was glad she'd put the handset down, because otherwise she'd have dropped it. She tried not to look surprised as she turned around.
“Yes?” she said.
“I see you've put in for your vacation time.”
“Yes—yes, I have.” Rowena had a sudden, sickening image of Eloise asking to come along with her. She tried to push it out of her mind.
“And that you have been allowed to take your vacation during the requested week,” Eloise continued. The requested week included the anniversary of Rowena's meeting Sammy at the zoo, and Rowena had been very relieved when nobody challenged her on it.
“I—yes. Thank you.” Somewhere along the line, Eloise must have signed one of the necessary papers.
“Well,” said Eloise, “you're such a good worker, I was wondering if you'd take along the Farrington Report, just to fill up your free time.”
“I . . . ah . . . um . . .” Her romantic anniversary week alone with Sammy, her hard-won vacation, her—
Eloise laughed; it was a peculiar sound. “Just kidding!” she said. “Go on; enjoy yourself. Have fun!” She slapped Rowena awkwardly on the back. “You've earned it,” she said, and left.
Rowena stared after her.
“What's got into her?” Marjorie asked.
Rowena went on staring. “She made a joke,” she said. “Didn't she just make a joke?”
“An Eloise kind of joke.”
“But it was a joke.”
“An Eloise joke.”
Rowena shook her head to clear it, glanced at the clock, and picked up the phone. She asked for Sarah, as Molly had instructed, and the woman at Primrose Cottage Inn told her that the place was under new management.
“I'm Marcella,” the woman said. “I'm the one you ask for now.”
“Well.” Rowena was taken aback. Molly had had such high praise for Sarah, for her warmth and taste and tact and her wonderful food. “Well, this friend of mine stayed with you—stayed at Primrose Cottage Inn last summer and—”
“Well, we'll be glad to have you,” Marcella said. “What's your name, dear?”
Rowena found herself giving her name and the dates she and Sammy would be staying. And then she found herself making a reservation.
“But that doesn't make any sense,” her mother told her.
“If you're going to spend all that money on a hotel, why don't you go someplace exotic? Or at least farther away.”
The idea of being farther away from her mother was an appealing one, but Rowena had made up her mind. “It's a nice place. There's all these trees, and a stream, and Molly says—”
“I know!” her mother said, excited. “Why don't you invite Sammy? He can get an adjoining room and you can go for walks—”
“It'll be so romantic. Who knows, he might even Pop The Question.”
“Now, Rowena, you never know. Why, sometimes—”
“Mother, Sammy is coming with me. And we are not having separate rooms. We are going to have a nice quiet—”
“Rowena. If you let him stay in your room he'll expect you to—do things.”
“Mother, sit down. Are you sitting?”
“Is it money? I'll pay for the second room. You don't have to—”
“Mother, this was my idea. Just listen to me for a minute, okay?” Rowena remembered the first time Maralynne had thought, mistakenly, that she was pregnant. She'd told their mother, and their mother had said, “Now, don't be silly, dear. You have to make the baby first. I'll explain it when you're older.”
“I thought it would be nice,” Rowena said now, “if Sammy and I just had a nice quiet week or so just to get away and be alone together and relax a little and spend some time—”
“Oh, Rowena. Don't you know if you give it away he won't want to marry you? I mean if he can already—”
“Is that what you think it is? That men only get married because of sex?”
“Rowena, that is not a nice word.”
Rowena took a deep breath. “Mother. Listen. I am not out to snare Sammy, or anybody else. And it's a little early to talk about marriage anyway. And—”
“Rowena. I am thinking about your Future.”
“Mother. Look at the calendar. Do you have one there? Do you see it? Can you read the year that's printed on the top of it?”
“Don't use that tone with your mother.”
“This is my life, Mom. Not a Jane Austen novel. Not—”
“Listen to me, Miss Independence. He's a nice young man, but men expect things. Even nice ones, sometimes. He's going to think that you're inviting him to do . . . married people things.” Rowena tried to interrupt, but when she opened her mouth nothing came out. “And when he's there being forceful and everything, don't come crying to me.” Rowena tried taking a deep breath and sitting up very straight. “And, anyway,” her mother said, “Jane who?”
“Jane?” Rowena managed. She tried to shake the disorientation out of her head. “Mom. Look. You don't have to worry about all that. Okay? You really don't. Because those things you're worried about—we're already doing them.” Rowena paused, but her mother was silent. She continued, “We're already doing them and there's no problem. Okay? We both enjoy them.”
She waited. Presently her mother said, “I thought I had one good daughter, at least.” She sounded distant.
“Mom—Mom, it's not like that anymore.” Her mother said nothing. “And I am grown up. And I'm careful. It's okay.”
And she went on talking, but as she talked she thought, in one corner of her mind, that she hadn't known her mother had ever considered her any kind of a “good” daughter at all.
“So now, of course, she's all cheesed off at me.”
“She'll get over it,” Terese said. “She forgave your sister. I'm not sure my mother could have done that.”
“Don't insult your mother,” Rowena said. “Your mother's cool. Anyway, mother-insulting is my job.”
“Touchy, aren't we?” Terese spooned up some soup. “You'll be fine,” she said.
“I hope so.” Rowena crunched her fork into a crouton. “You should hear her. ‘What have I done? How can you do this to me?’”
“You're not doing it to her.”
Rowena shrugged. “You know. Shame, infamy, that kind of thing.”
“She's not sure I'm going to hell, though I can improve my chances of salvation by getting married right away.”
“Why,” asked Terese, “am I not surprised?”
“She hasn't actually said that my chances are even better if I go on to produce five or six kids, but I doubt she thinks it would hurt.”
“Hey,” said Terese, “how much trouble can you get into with five or six kids around?”
“She really thinks,” said Rowena, “she really thinks I'm Tainted.”
“She'll get over it,” Terese said again. “It's just a shock-of-discovery thing. A disillusionment thing. Eventually she'll settle down and see that you're still you and all that terribly profound stuff.”
“And I thought I needed an escape before,” Rowena said. “You know, I have this fear that she's going to try and stop me from going. Save me from a Week of Sin.”
“How? What could she do?” Terese put her spoon down. “You haven't gone and told her where you'll be, have you?”
“You think I'm an idiot? Of course I haven't. And I've warned Sammy not to, in case she asks him.” Rowena raised her glass. “He laughed.”
“Sure,” Terese said. “See how silly you're being? I mean, imagine, actually speaking to your daughter's ravisher.”
“Oh, Beth, hi. Thanks for calling.”
“You're welcome, but I'm afraid I've got bad news for you.”
“No dice, huh?” Rowena sat down, a little heavily. She looked across the room at Linus, innocently chewing his rope toy.
“No dice. She's on vacation herself that week.”
Rowena sighed. “Oh, well.”
“Feel free to hate her for it; she's got three weeks.” Beth paused. “Anybody else left?”
“I don't remember how much of this I told you already. The place the vet recommended is full up already, believe it or not, and the place they recommended won't answer the phone. Which kind of makes me wonder about the first place, frankly. I can't use the place Sammy uses because they only take cats, and when I called to ask them for a recommendation, they recommended the same place the vet did.”
“What about that relative of yours you thought you'd call?”
“No go; she's got a boyfriend now who's allergic.”
“Living with her, or just . . . ?”
“Living with her. And the other one I was going to call has gone and disappeared.”
“If you don't mind leaving him there at your place, I could come by once or twice a day,” Beth offered.
“I'd hate to drag you around like that, with your schedule change and everything—oh, yeah, your schedule. You'd be wandering in and out at all these ungodly hours—”
“What about Terese?”
“We don't think Linus would get along with Bonnie and Clyde.”
“But maybe she could—”
“If I sound desperate enough she might. She doesn't want to come here because she thinks she'll kill my plants.”
Beth laughed. “For Pete's sake,” she said. “Look, I'll take care of your plants. Okay? You can leave 'em there or take 'em to my place; my landlord is not gonna throw me out for plants.”
“Oh, Beth. Thank you.”
Rowena made a few arrangements, thanked Beth again, and hung up. She went to the cupboard and got a teabag and a cup, then put water on to boil. Next she would call Terese and—
The phone rang. Rowena picked it up. “Hello?”
“I wish you'd reconsider,” her mother said.
“Mom, I've already explained—”
“A mother worries,” her mother went on. “You have no idea how a mother worries.”
“I think I have an idea.”
“Just wait'll your father hears about this. Just wait.”
Rowena shut her eyes, tight. “You mean you haven't told him? I thought you'd have told—”
“You have no idea,” her mother said, “how a mother suffers. How she has to protect her children, her husband—you have no idea how hard it is.”
“How they'll break your heart, every time. Husbands, children—”
“Oh, Rowena,” her mother said, “how I wish you'd settle down and get married!”
Sammy turned onto the dirt road that led, supposedly, to the Primrose Cottage Inn. Rowena kept watch for the inn itself.
“It is beautiful here, isn't it?” she asked.
“As advertised.” Sammy turned again and there it was—a large, rather rustic-looking house Rowena would have taken for a private dwelling except for the signs: a large one in front bearing the name of the inn and a smaller one over the door which read OFFICE/LOBBY.
They parked and went into the office. Someone had indeed planted primroses on either side of the walkway, and mixed more primroses into the flower beds along the façade. The primroses were not yet in bloom.
“Hello—Welcome!” said the woman behind the desk.
“Hello,” Rowena said. “We have a reservation.” A small face peeked up over the counter at her; a little girl with big, staring eyes. Rowena smiled at her. The little girl kept staring.
“Wonderful,” the woman said. She dragged the reservation book a little closer, called Rowena “honey,” and finally managed, after Rowena had handed over her credit card, to introduce herself as Marcella and her young daughter as Penny.
“You're in the Mendelssohn Room,” she continued. “First floor, that way.” She pointed generally, then gave Rowena two keys and a little pamphlet describing the features and history of the inn, the features of the nearest town, and the breakfast policy.
“Thank you,” Rowena said.
“You need help with your luggage?” Marcella asked. She did not look enthusiastic.
“No, thanks.” They both traveled light.
“We're fine,” Sammy said. Marcella eyed him.
“Well, then, welcome,” she said. “Glad to have you. I hope you enjoy your stay.”
“Thanks,” Rowena said. She was about to leave, but Marcella wasn't done.
“I like to think of my guests as family,” she said. “I want to be like a mother to you.”
Rowena managed to mumble something polite, and she and Sammy took their leave and searched out the Mendelssohn Room, which was not hard to find. They went back for their luggage.
A wood beam ceiling. Hardwood floor, only partially covered by a thick rug. Wooden window frames stained to match. Rose-patterned curtains pulled back to show lace underneath. A queen-size bed, the bedspread also strewn with roses.
“Isn't this nice?” Rowena went to the rather old-fashioned dresser, looked at the room's reflection in the mirror above it. And then her eyes met Sammy's, reflected there in the mirror of their room, their very own room for the entire week. She turned to him, went to him, and they held each other.
“This,” Sammy said, “is nice.”
And she kissed him, there alone in their room, with the week stretching before them, days and days of it, hours and hours and hours.
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